Nova Scotia

Halifax Shipyard extends shutdown after COVID-19 case, all workers to be tested

The company announced the positive test for one of its workers on Thursday. The other members of the 15-person crew were also told to self-isolate and schedule tests.

Company working with Public Health to set up test site for some 1,600 employees

The Irving Shipyard in Halifax has spent the last five years working on a massive shipbuilding project for the Royal Canadian Navy. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Irving's Halifax Shipyard has shut down temporarily while Public Health investigates a positive COVID-19 case among the employees and arranges testing for some 1,600 workers.

The company announced the positive case Thursday and initially said it would close the assembly and module halls for cleaning before reopening for the second shift the following day.

On Friday, however, the shutdown was extended to the entire shipyard while Public Health investigates.

Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health, told CBC News the length of the closure is indeterminate.

"It depends," he said. "We're investigating around that case."

Tom Ormsby, a spokesperson for Irving, said later in the day the shutdown will remain in place at least until Sunday. 

"A decision on third shift Sunday night/Monday morning will be made no later than 8 p.m. Sunday," he said in an email.

"Employees at the Bluenose Building, Marine Fabricators and Woodside Industries are to continue to report for work as normal."

After Irving learned of the positive case among one of its workers Thursday, the other members of the 15-person crew were told to self-isolate and schedule COVID-19 tests.

Irving said it also sent home all employees in the assembly and module halls as a precaution.

Testing coming for all employees

During Friday's COVID-19 briefing, Premier Iain Rankin thanked the company for its co-operation. Irving Shipbuilding is in the middle of a multibillion-dollar project for the Canadian navy.

"Irving is doing what Nova Scotia businesses do — it's stepping up for the collective public good," said Rankin.

The premier said the company is working with Public Health on a plan to test all of its employees at the shipyard, something that won't be simple given the size of the workforce is comparable to that of a small town.

Some of the approximately 1,600 people who work at the site don't live in the immediate Halifax area, said Strang.

"To do that volume of people, the most logical thing is to bring it — testing — into that large worksite," he said during the briefing. "It's by far the biggest worksite of anywhere in the province."

Irving said in a news release that a pop-up testing site has been established at the shipyard for employees. Initial testing is expected to take place Saturday and Sunday, with the focus on priority roles, production and production support.

Different workplaces, different approaches

Thursday's case was the first reported at the shipyard.

In a statement Thursday, the company said it's taken a number of steps since last year to keep employees safe during the pandemic, including daily temperature checks, medical questionnaires and increased hygiene requirements. Work procedures have also been changed to minimize or eliminate the need for two-person tasks.

The approach being taken at the shipyard is different than the one the government took in December with a poultry plant in the Annapolis Valley.

Eden Valley Poultry was ordered to shut down for two weeks while all 450 employees were tested after four workers tested positive for COVID-19 in two days. The plant was eventually allowed to reopen sooner, but with a reduced crew.

Strang said Friday the difference is the poultry plant was experiencing an outbreak.

"Right now, we have a single case. Irving has been very co-operative," he said.

"Whether we have to go further than that, well, what happens with the ongoing investigation and the testing in the few days ahead will tell us that."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

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